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Service Dog Gets Degree

December 7, 2020

When Maggie Leptrone, a nursing student at the University of West Georgia, walked across the stage at Commencement Saturday morning, she wasn’t alone.

Mona, her Diabetic Alert Dog, fetched herself a diploma, too.

Mona, a Labradoodle, became the first canine companion in UWG history to receive an honorary “dog-ree” during in-person Commencement ceremonies that honored all members of the class of 2020 – human or otherwise.

“I am so excited that Mona can be a trailblazer at UWG for students like me who require a service dog to manage their health,” Leptrone said.

Leptrone, who has had Type I diabetes for nearly two decades, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the Tanner Health System School of Nursing (THSSON). She said diabetes has always been a part of her life.

“In my junior year of high school, there came a day when my blood sugar went way too low and I could not get it back to where it needed to be for a long time,” Leptrone said. “I drifted into a mini-coma during my sleep, and my parents could not wake me up for a long time. Once I came to and got my blood sugar back to a manageable level, my mom decided that I needed something I could really depend on in my upcoming college life.”

Enter Mona, who was trained by Diabetic Alert Dogs of America to detect changes in blood sugar. Diabetic Alert Dogs of America is an organization that provides individuals and families who are challenged by diabetes with service dogs. The service dogs trained by the organization enhance an individual’s quality of life by providing independence, companionship, and life-saving abilities.

“Getting Mona meant wading into unknown waters and learning new ropes in dealing with the general population,” Leptrone said. “I have gotten a pretty good handle on informing the public about what it means to have a service dog and what kind of service dog mine is.”

Dr. Jenny Schuessler, dean of THSSON, said Leptrone’s furry friend has accompanied her throughout her nursing education at UWG: in classes, clinical placement and labs.

“Maggie – and Mona, of course – are truly extraordinary,” Schuessler said. “Having been a diabetic for most of her life, Maggie knows what it’s like to need good nursing care, so to see her excel through nursing school has been such a rewarding experience. She credits the supportive care from her nursing professors for her success, but the faculty give all the credit to Maggie.”

Now, with her nursing degree in hand, Leptrone has accepted a position in the intensive care unit with WellStar Health System in Douglas County. She said that opportunity wouldn’t have been possible without the “amazing and supportive care” she received from the faculty at UWG.

“Every one of my professors has been a blessing to me,” Leptrone said. “They have been understanding of my situation and welcomed Mona and myself with open arms. My professors did not see a hindrance to my education but saw a student who has overcome a lot of odds to get where she is today. Each professor worked with me and helped me find ways to do my job with Mona staying at my side.”

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